In February 2013, I spent another four weeks working in Norway. In Skien, just like the Summer before when I did my first MTB race and that neat 10k run on an island. Realising that I would be in the mecca of cross-country skiing, I brought my skating skis and planned on skiing a lot to prepare for Engadin Skimarathon in March.
Skien is a small place with about 60’000 residents, but the place sports about a dozen XC skiing tracks, two of which are even lit at night. Most tracks are for classic skiing only, but the biggest one (where I always went) had a skating track as well.
Even though I went often, I never managed to stay much longer than one hour. I usually went in the evening after work, and it was just too cold to stay any longer.
The same colleague that had taken me to the running race the Summer before told me about an event taking place on one of the weekends: Svanstulrennet, a XC skiing race near Skien. The catch was: classic technique only! My colleague lent me a pair of classic skis, I purchased grip wax (a science on its own) and decided to test the skis a few days before the race.
It was horrible. The skis were made for somebody much lighter than me, so they were almost completely on the ground when I was standing on them, leaving almost no room for grip wax. In addition, the track was completely frozen, so about one hour later, not much further and a few crashes “richer”, I was ready to abandon classic XC skiing forever.
My colleague convinced me to come along anyway, we would start in the “free” category ahead of the mass start, without timing. The day turned out to be absolutely beautiful with much better conditions than when I tried the skis, so it was actually a lot of fun. We started about half an hour before the actual race began.
The scenery presented itself like this:
Far away, we could see Gaustatoppen, the mountain to be climbed at the end of Norseman. Roughly like this.
After a bit more than one hour, the fastest racers started passing us. I felt much more comfortable on my skis than when I first tested them, but how these guys managed to run up climbs the way they did remained a mystery to me.
The course consisted of a small loop that was followed counterclockwise, then a large loop clockwise and then the rest of the small loop, with a little overlap between the both.
The fun lasted about two hours, until my wax wore off. There’s a reason why in longer classic races pros switch their skis! The last bit was a real struggle, with not so much grip and narrow bits where my poles seemed to disappear in the soft snow all the time. Lots of swearing and sweating later, we managed to finish, despite everything.
I had just one crash in a longer downhill section with a turn that seemed to become more and more narrow. My colleague zoomed along these as if on rails; me, not so much!
I haven’t tried classic XC skiing ever since, but I’m sure it’s great fun. And it’s very important to have skis suited to your body weight. And to become a waxing guru. Which all Norwegians seem to be!